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Visiting South Dakota - The Mammoth Site and Museum

Everything you Need to Know About the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota

If you’re planning to visit Hot Springs, SD, then you must visit the incredible Mammoth Site and Museum located in the city. It’s a massive paleontological dig site that provides an up-close and exceptional look at the excavation of mammoths and other mammals.

This indoor active paleontological dig site is essentially a 26,000-year-old sinkhole that has dried up. The museum and site are non-profit, researched-based programs that offer fossil exploration via educational programs. You can take a self-guided tour of the site to see the fossils of more than 60 mammoths and 80 other species.

Here’s everything else you need to know about this wondrous Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota:

When Was the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota Uncovered?

The Mammoth Site was uncovered in June 1974 when George Hanson, a heavy equipment operator, was grading a small hill for a Hot Springs housing development. While leveling the land, Hanson’s blade struck a seven-foot long tusk that shone white in the sunlight. He also discovered some other bones on the site.

Hanson took some of the bones to his son Dan, who had studied archaeology and geology. Dan realized that the bones were ancient and instantly contacted his old college professor Dr. Larry Agenbroad. The professor took a look at the site and surmised that the bones exposed by the bulldozer belonged to at least 4 to 6 mammoths. He instantly knew there had to be more!

Dr. Larry Agenbroad asked his colleague Dr. Jim Mead (who’s now the Mammoth Site Chief Scientists and Site Director) and his crew to salvage and stabilize the bones, teeth, tusks, and skull fragments. This mission proved to be quite fruitful as they discovered several other specimens as well.

The next year, both the doctors led a team of volunteer students and started excavating the site. Soon after, a complete skull with intact tusks was excavated, which increased the popularity of the Mammoth Site. By the end of the excavation, Phil Anderson gave up his 14 acres of land as a resource for scientific study. That’s when the Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota, was born.

The Fossils at the Site

Since the discovery of the first mammoth, more than 60 mammoths have been discovered at the site, 58 of which were North American Columbian mammoths, while 3 were wooly mammoths. Columbian mammoths preferred temperate regions of North America, while Wooly mammoths lived in colder regions, such as Canada and the Northern United States. This is why their fossils are rarely found in the same place, which makes this site unique and fascinating.

All of these fossils are of male mammals. The theory behind this interesting discovery is that, just like their descendant the modern elephant, mammoths lived in matriarchal societies as well. This means that male mammoths were forced out of the herd and into dangerous territories, which explains how they ended up buried in this sinkhole. 

Moreover, fossils of other animals, such as the American camel, a rare Giant short-faced bear, llama, coyotes, wolves, shrub oxen, and prairie dogs have been found at the site. Imprint fossils of bird feathers, thousands of mollusk shells, and complete fish skeletons have also been discovered at the site.

Since these fossils were not petrified, they are quite dry and fragile. This is why the scat, shells, and bones are identified, numbered, categorized, and preserved in-situ – exactly how they were found in the sinkhole.

Timings and Ticket Costs

If you visit Hot Springs, SD, then you can explore the Site from Monday to Saturday between 9:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. On Sundays, you can go between 11:00 am and 3:30 p.m. The general admission cost for kids between ages 4 and 12 is $9, for adults, it is $12, and for seniors, it is $10. You can also take your pet with you to the site as long as it is leashed or in a carrier.

What to Expect from Your Visit to the Site

During COVID-19Owing to the current pandemic, the Mammoth Site has installed physical barriers at all registers and hand sanitizer stations throughout the museum for the guests. It also hasn’t been offering any guided tours. However, you can download the self-guided tour app before arriving at the site to enjoy your visit to the fullest. You will also have to follow strict physical distancing guidelines while exploring the site.
So, what are you waiting for? Get your masks out and go visit the marvelous Mammoth Site of Hot Springs, South Dakota!

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